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Bonham Texas, a History
Bonham is the county seat of Fannin County. It is on U.S. Highway 82 and State highways 78 and 121 on the northern edge of the Blackland Prairie twelve miles south of the Red River.
Bonham incorporated on February 2, 1848, obtained a charter to incorporate land within a mile of the courthouse in 1873, and in 1990 operated under a charter granted in 1911.
Bailey Inglish secured the town’s first Post Office, which served an area of several hundred miles, including what is now Collin and Grayson counties.
Public schools opened in 1890, and new brick buildings were constructed for both black and white schools in 1928. Bonham Independent School District later absorbed thirty-two consolidated districts covering 230 square miles and five campuses.
Currently, Elementary and Secondary education is covered by the Bonham Independent School District.
People and Places
By far Bonham’s most famous resident was “Mr. Sam,” Sam Rayburn, the longtime Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Rayburn’s house and a library featuring memorabilia from his Congressional terms are popular museums in the city. State Highway 56 through town (the former U.S. Highway 82) is named Sam Rayburn Boulevard (and runs beside both the house and library).
Charlie Christian – an American swing and jazz guitarist.
John Wesley Hardin – well-known outlaw and gunfighter in late 19th-century Texas
Roy McMillan – Cincinnati Reds All-Star shortstop
Tom McBride – Major League Baseball outfielder
Joe Morgan – Baseball Hall of Fame second baseman
B. A. Wilson, NASCAR driver
Danny Darwin, Professional baseball player
Stephen Flowers – is an American Runologist and proponent of occultism and Germanic mysticism.
Kenny Marchant – United States Representative, Texas 24th District
Jerry Moore – former head coach of the Appalachian State Mountaineers football team.
Homer Blankenship, Major League Baseball pitcher.
Roberta Dodd Crawford – black lyric soprano, also known as Princess Kojo Tovalou-Houenou.
Places of note
The Bonham News, the county’s first newspaper, was founded in 1866 by B. Ober.
The Fannin County National Bank opened in 1874.
The Steger Opera House (built in 1890) brought touring companies of performers.
Major church denominations were represented by 1900.
Bonham women founded numerous service and cultural institutions, among them the Current Literature Club (1898), the Bonham Public Library (1901), and a Mother’s Club that became affiliated with the national Parent-Teacher Association in 1924. Allen Memorial Hospital was built in 1903.
Bonham was a division point on the Texas and Pacific railroad in 1873. The Dennison, Bonham and New Orleans branch of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas line was built from Bonham to Denison by 1887.
One of the oldest cities in Texas, Bonham began when Bailey Inglish (from Butler County, Kentucky) arrived in 1836. In 1837 he built Fort Inglish, a blockhouse and stockade, on 1,250 acres of land located on Bois d’Arc Creek near timber and water supplies. John P. Simpson arrived soon afterward. Along with Inglish they donated the original townsite, then known as Bois d’Arc, to encourage settlement.
Bois d’Arc became the Fannin county seat on January 26, 1843 and was renamed Bonham on February 26, 1844, in honor of James B. Bonham, who died at the Alamo. At this time, the county extended into the Panhandle and Greer County, Oklahoma Territory. The area was later divided into twenty Texas counties.
By the early 1840s, C. C. Alexander (of Cumberland County, Kentucky) established a business house to supply Fort Worth and nearby forts. Bonham then became a resting and supply base for home seekers in northeastern Texas. During the Civil War the town was an agricultural center located at a strategic point near the state’s northern border, though few people lived there between 1855 and 1870.
Settlers from the upper South increased the population after the Civil War and contributed to the town’s educational, financial, and industrial development.
By 1888 the town produced row crops including grain and cotton and had 117 businesses, three colleges, three papers, a furniture factory, a sawmill, gristmills, and gins. The Bonham Cotton Mill, once the largest west of the Mississippi, was chartered in 1900. The Bonham Free Kindergarten opened in 1907 to benefit mothers working in the mill. The mill was sold for profit in 1920 but retained its workforce and local manager.
During the Texas Centennial celebration in 1936 federal funds were used to build a replica of Fort Inglish; a second replica was built in 1976. Bonham is the site of the annual Fannin County Fair. Bonham State Recreation Area is three miles southeast and Lake Bonham is located about three miles northeast of the community.
Citation: Bonham Daily Favorite, January 8, 1986. Bonham High School, History of Bonham (Dallas: Harben-Spotts, 1929?). Beverly Christian, “Bonham Cotton Mills,” East Texas Historical Journal 26 (Fall 1988). Will A. Evans, Bonham 52 Years Ago (Bonham, Texas: Fannin County Genealogical Quarterly, 1984). Fannin County Folks and Facts (Dallas: Taylor, 1977). Juanita C. Spencer, Bonham-Town of Bailey Inglish (Wolfe City, Texas: Henington, 1977). Pat Stephens, ed., Forgotten Dignity: The Black Community of Bonham…1880–1930 (Bonham, Texas: Progressive Citizens, 1984). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Diana J. Kleiner